Upstate firm develops painless glucose tests for diabetic dogs and people
Aug 02, 2018 12:43PM ● Published by Emily Stevenson
Imagine this scenario: You’re a proud owner of precocious pup, let’s say a scruffy little cairn terrier you call Toto. And because you love Toto and Toto loves you, Toto gets any treat any time he wants. Heck, you don’t just feed him your table scraps—you cook him hamburgers and hotdogs just because you love to see his little tail wag.
Of course, that’s caused a problem: Toto’s overweight. And not only that, Toto’s developed diabetes.
So you have to test Toto’s blood glucose every day.
You’d love to, but you just can’t bring yourself to prick your precious puppy’s lip in order to collect a blood sample.
What’s a fawning dog owner to do? It’s not like she can just click her heels three times and wish for a pain-free glucose test. Right?
The team at Accessible Diagnostics has come up with a way that pet parents can test their pup’s glucose level without drawing blood. They have developed a product called Vet-Tab that allows dog owners to take a swab of their pet’s saliva, smear it on a pad, place it next to a color gradient scale on the carton, and scan the image with a smart phone. The app then compares the color on the strip relative to the gradient scale to measure Toto’s glucose levels.
“We are able to accurately analyze that color with different models of Android phones and iPhones in a wide variety of ambient light,” says John Warner, co-founder and chief executive officer of Accessible Diagnostics. “What that allows us to do is, we don’t have to identify the exact color of that target zone. All we have to do is identify it relative to this radiant scale.”
Warner adds, “So if your phone were to see it differently from my phone, they would get the right answer. If you saw it in a very bright light or a shadow, your phone would still get the right answer.”
While the app would be able to measure glucose levels, it would also do something equally as important: it stores that data, allowing pet owners to see overall trends and giving them a better idea of what might cause a glucose spike.
A Trip to Tanzania
Warner and his Accessible Diagnostic team didn’t always intend to enter the pet sector—nor do they plan to stay there.
In the beginning the Vet-Tab team was focused on helping diabetic people in underdeveloped nations, not dogs.
Clemson University scientist and Accessible Diagnostics Technology Advisor Delphine Dean was on a trip to Tanzania with graduate student Kayla Wilson, who noticed a problem. “She saw a big need for better glucose monitoring because there wasn’t much available,” Dean says.
The central problem: How to make blood glucose tests cheap and readily available.
Wilson and Dean got to work and developed a product that would inject enzymes from an inkjet printer onto paper, creating low-cost blood glucose strips. Later, they joined forces with Warner and formed Accessible Diagnostics.
Eventually, the company ditched the inkjet printer in favor of a product that could utilize cheap strips and a smart phone, a common device around the world. And instead of blood, which can be painful to draw, they found a far easier bodily fluid to obtain: saliva. Enter Life-Tab.
“Just having something at a lower cost doesn’t mean someone will use it,” Dean says. After all, you can currently grab a 50-count of blood glucose strips from Walmart for under $20. “It’s very hard to get people to prick themselves.”
She adds, “To have something that is a little bit easier will make a big difference.”
However, getting approval for human use requires the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, something the Accessible Diagnostics team expects to receive in 2019.
In the meantime, they’re pushing Vet-Tab, which doesn’t need the FDA’s all-clear.
“It’s exactly the same technology for humans,” Warner says. “We’re selling it for pets because we can.”
The Data Disruption
According to a 2017 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 56 percent of all dogs are obese, a significant diabetic risk factor. Furthermore, Banfield Pet Hospital’s 2018 State of Pet Health notes that the rate of canine obesity has gone up 169 percent over the last 10 years, while the 2016 survey discovered that the number of cases of canine diabetes has gone up 79.7 percent since 2006.
As with pets, the number of individuals with diabetes continues to grow. According to the International Diabetic Federation, 425 million people around the world have diabetes, with that number expected to reach 629 million by 2045. The biggest shift is expected for Asia.
Meanwhile, Market Research Future says that the “market for blood glucose test strip(s) was estimated at $13.7 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $18.5 billion by 2020.”
In South Carolina, 13.9 percent of the adult population has diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, while the S.C. Department of Environmental Control reports that one in six African-American adults have the disease. ADA also reports that 37.2 percent have pre-diabetes.
With that in mind, a product like Life-Tab has the potential to help more people manage their diabetes and reduce their risk of developing diabetes.
As it stands, Life-Tab is part of an emerging trend in health care, one that is shifting the industry away from doctors and hospitals—and one that is putting more of an individual’s health care choices in their own hands.
Consider CVS Health. The pharmacy chain is likely to merge with insurance provider Aetna Inc., a move that theoretically will allow the company to further expand its MinuteClinic offerings.
Meanwhile, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan are joining forces to drive down the cost of health care, and one way they hope to do that is by giving patients more anytime access to their health data, access which will be accessible via the cloud by a phone.
Warner sees the possibility of Accessible Diagnostics operating in much of the same way. Again, it’s the other feature of their products—the ability to collect data over time—that factors in.
“I think what we are experiencing is a major shift from treating people when they are sick to trying to keep people healthy, and who is going to drive this are the funders of health care,” Warner says, specifically the individuals themselves, their employers, and Medicaid and Medicare.
Of course, Warner is quick to point out that nothing is going to replace doctors, the need for annual checkups, and ongoing testing and treatment. That’s not the goal.
“Now, when I go to the physical, not only do they have the lab tests they do once a year, they have this data that I’ve collected throughout the year,” he says, “so now we make a better decision together.”